Meet me Under the Troll's Bridge
Monday, September 11, 2017
This past spring, I attended a semi-local writer’s conference. One of the speakers said that it was okay to publish a book that had errors in it. That it didn’t matter, because you could always upload a revised version any time you want. He also said if you were to get a bad review due to the errors, that was okay too. You just need to grow a tough skin and ignore it. Then he stated that if the reader likes your story, they will buy your next book, even with all the errors. By the time I recovered my senses, he’d gone on to promote his “how to write and publish a book in thirty days or less” book.
I don’t know about you, but I dislike a bunch of typos and grammar mistakes when trying to read. Sure, I understand a book will never be totally error-free, but we should strive to get as close as possible. I’m an avid reader and have returned books riddled with formatting issues and errors. And I certainly won’t be buying anything else from them.
Authors such as this are the reason self-publishing still leaves a bad taste in many reader’s mouths. And, I understand the legacy publishers aren’t perfect, but they do try.
As an editor for a medium-sized publisher, I see many submissions that really aren’t ready. Even though we require a professional edit before submitting, it’s amazing how many manuscripts still need editing when we get them.
One thing I often see at the start of a submission is page upon page of backstory. Naturally, the author needs to know their characters’ past. Especially since that character’s past tends to have a bearing on the story at hand. But, it needs to be woven in. A little bit here, a little bit there. Yes, it’s easier just to lump it all together, but many readers are going to skim over it or will close the book and find something more interesting.
Dialogue tags are another area where authors take the easy way. So many times, I see “he said angrily” or “she stated emphatically”. How much better it would be to add a beat such as “He slammed his fist into the wall.” Or “She stomped her sneaker-clad foot.” Yes, doing it this way is a lot of work, but so worth it.
I think a lot of the problem is many authors don’t study their craft. And it is a craft. A woodcarver doesn’t become a master craftsman overnight. He spends years practicing, making mistakes, starting over, and continues learning.
Same thing with musicians. Sure, there is the occasional genius who doesn’t need to practice, but those are few and far between. Most musicians start with the basics, practice and practice, then practice some more.
Writers must study our craft, too. We can’t be content with “okay”. When I read, I want to be transported into the story, to escape from my reality for a while. If I have to slog through ten or fifteen pages of backstory before something happens, I’ll find another book. If grammar issues keep jerking me out of the story, I’ll find one that doesn’t.
As writers, we can’t edit our own work. At least not well. We tend to read what we think should be there, what we meant to write. Many of us don’t know all the nuances a professional editor should. (I’m still trying to figure out commas.) A professional editor is a writer’s best friend and worth every penny they charge. A professional editor wants your book to be the best it can be and will work hard to make it so. And, that professional edit will get you an acceptance letter and publishing contract.
Meet me Under the Troll's Bridge
Tuesday, September 5, 2017
Tuesday, August 22, 2017
When looking for a subject to write about, ideas are everywhere. Sitting on a bench in the park you have sights and sounds. Take a notebook with you wherever you go and use all your senses to capture the world around you. See the child sliding down the slide: capture the dialog and jot it down. What are people doing and saying around you? What about their mannerisms? How they walk, talk, look?
There are many things to look for when trying to find a subject matter. Look in the newspapers. Is there something that jumps out at you and captures your attention? Possibly a murder, or someone missing. Write about the search party; someone in the search party. Make the person interesting. Does he/she have anything to do with the missing person? Do they know this person? Just read the newspaper and see what you can come up with. Change the story to meet your needs.
Watch the evening news. Watch online news and events. What’s going on in the world that disturbs you and you want to write about it?
There are thousands of writing prompts online (google). Something might jump out at you and beg to be written.
I’ve always been interested in women’s issues, especially in other countries. For instance: kidnapping, female genital mutilation, child labor, unequal pay, beating of women, child & women abuse, elder abuse, animal abuse. I could go on, but you get the idea. There is so much going on in the world we could write about passionately.
Read and study about things you are interested in and start writing in your own words.
There’s a saying to not mix politics and religion together. Why? Because they are controversial issues. So, I say, write about it. How do you feel about how America has changed since you were a child? Is it better or worse? What changes have you seen? What improvements would you want to see happen? And religion. Why do you think there are so many? What’s the purpose of so many? What is the right one? How would you go about changing the views of those around you?
There is a plethora of things to write about, whether right or wrong. Someone will have a negative opinion about it anyway. But you will stir up interest. That’s what makes a good writer into a great writer.
Have you watched any good movies lately? How about an old movie…can you see a better ending? How about changing the protagonist to the opposite sex? Maybe change the storyline. Bring it up to date for today’s time.
Watch movies and read books you’re interested in. Can you see something entirely different than what the author wrote? Does your imagination take you on a diverse journey? Good! Go for it.
What about dreams. I know everyone has dreams that are dark or silly. Why not weave them into a story? Better yet, write an entire story and fill in the part of the dream that wasn’t there. Complete the dream. I’ve had some wild dreams about planes crashing around me, or bombing me. They were quite vivid and still remember them years later.
I don’t mind buying books that might help me with prompts. I bought one called, The Writer’s Book of Matches by the staff of fresh boiled peanuts. There are over 1001 prompts to start your imagination flowing. I used to run a writing group from 2001 to 2012. I used prompts in this group of writers to come up with a story each month and then we would critique: grammar, story, use of the senses, conflict and resolution and lots more. This book helped in keeping our creative juices flowing.
So, wherever you are, you can be sure to find something interesting to write about. Just keep your eyes and ears open. Your senses will pick up something interesting for your next story.
Let the journey begin, and have fun.
Article formerly posted on: Writers on the Move
Linda Barnett-Johnson is a virtual assistant for authors, former editor, former assistant editor of Long Story Short ezine. Published many articles, short stories and poetry.
Monday, August 14, 2017
Excerpted and expanded from the recently released 415-page book in Carolyn Howard-Johnson’s multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally Series of books, How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically
Writing great professional reviews (as opposed to writing more casual reader reviews which I also cover as part of my newest how-to book for writers!) will probably entail tackling a slight learning curve. It isn’t as steep, however, as the curves required when you switch genres from, say, experimental genres to literary or poetry. With a few basic guidelines, you can write reviews to be proud of for your blog or other online review entities. Different media outlets have different style guides.
Here is why you might choose writing reviews as a way to give your writing career a nudge (you can read that market if you want to!).
§ 1. Writing reviews is fun. It is, after all, writing. And it allows you to market by doing what you like to do.
§ 2. Writing reviews will help you network with all kinds of editors, authors, and others in the publishing industry who may be in a position to help you market your own books.
§ 3. Amazon and its links to your author’s profile page are waiting for you! Each review you post there contributes to your exposure on the one place in the world where the most readers and writing professionals hang out.
§ 4. Your reviews lend to your credibility in the publishing world.
Here is a style guide similar to Midwest Book Review’s guidelines for their reviewers:
- Your review should begin with metadata including:
- Publisher’s address.
- Publisher’s Web site address (if they have one).
- Publisher’s e-mail address (if they have one).
- Retail price.
- Page count.
- Your name (that would be you as the
- To write an engaging review, consider:
- Including why you selected this particular book for review. Perhaps it relates to your work, hobby, avocation, a particular area of interest, your expertise, or just for fun.
- Adding how the author uses language and structure, illustrates his/her points, develops characters. Use brief quotations from the book to support your observations, opinions, and comments. When writing poetry reviews, include an excerpt from a poem that illustrates a point; when writing a review of a cookbook, include a recipe that appeals to you.
- Who the book is intended for. Address how well the material relates to that audience.
- What the author is trying to accomplish? Entertain, instruct, persuade, inform, train, teach, alarm?
- suggestions for the author to consider next time his or her work appears in print.
- Including a bit about the author’s background, credentials, or other titles.
- Including relevant titles that might interest the readers of this book.
- To submit a review to journals, follow their formatting guidelines. Lacking those, type your reviews in single spaced paragraphs with double spacing between the paragraphs. The review can be a few paragraphs or a few pages—take as much space as you feel is necessary to say whatever you want to say, unless you are writing for a specific journal, blog, or review website. In that case, follow their suggested word count.
Above all, have a good time putting your thoughts and opinions down. The best reviews are those that you would like to listen to while driving along in your car or chatting with friends over lunch. I interpret this as meaning that this journal would prefer a casual tone rather than too much formality.
Here’s one of the most important guidelines for authors who choose to review for the good of their careers. Do you remember what Flower, the skunk in Disney’s Bambi said? “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” We’ll just amend that to, “If you can’t find anything nice to say, don’t write a review.”
If a book is badly written or not worthwhile, send the book back to the author with a polite explanation that you are not a match for this book rather than slash and burn. It will look a little like the rejection notices we authors must become accustomed to in the submission process. This doesn’t mean you can’t include some criticism. You should. Studies show that a review that is tempered by critique sells more books than rave reviews because they are viewed as more credible. Further, just as a critique group can make a difference in an author’s technique, so can a critical comment from a reviewer.
Hint: If you plan to pursue reviewing for pay, I recommend you read Mayra Calvani and Anne Edwards’ book, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing or Magdalena Ball’s The Art of Assessment. It turns out that some writers carve entire careers out of reviewing. And others manage to make enough money from it to support their poetry or fiction habits until they become rich and famous.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Carolyn Howard-Johnson brings her experience as a publicist, journalist, marketer, and retailer to the advice she gives in her HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers and the many classes she taught for nearly a decade as an instructor for UCLA Extension’s world-renown Writers’ Program. The books in her HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers have won multiple awards. That series includes both the first and second editions of The Frugal Book Promoter and The Frugal Editor. They won awards from USA Book News, Readers’ Views Literary Award, the marketing award from Next Generation Indie Books and others including the coveted Irwin award. She is celebrating the release of the third, How To Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically in the series.
Howard-Johnson is the recipient of the California Legislature’s Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment Award, and her community’s Character and Ethics award for her work promoting tolerance with her writing. She was also named to Pasadena Weekly’s list of “Fourteen San Gabriel Valley women who make life happen” and was given her community’s Diamond Award for Achievement in the Arts.
The author loves to travel. She has visited eighty-nine countries and has studied writing at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom; Herzen University in St. Petersburg, Russia; and Charles University, Prague. She admits to carrying a pen and journal wherever she goes. Her Web site is www.howtodoitfrugally.com.
Wednesday, August 2, 2017
An editor requests an essay. First of all, to me, essays were a dreaded school assignment. Admittedly, being forced to write an essay in grammar school was the beginning of my writing career. And meeting that first critical deadline proved I could produce a
worthwhile written piece. My demanding but fair English teacher, Sister Emma Jane Marie, an Academy of the Holy Names nun clothed in a full black and white habit, discovered I could write creatively before I knew I could. Once she took me under her wing, I wrote for the school newspaper and published many of my class writing assignments in newspapers and various magazines.
Hundreds of essays later, I am still intimidated by the request for a particular essay. How do I start writing on that blank paper or computer screen? First, the ideas flow. Then word binges and thought flashes follow. The process is similar to a horse race. Ready. Set. Go! And I am amazed that words written in a ‘tight’ order can be produced so easily once the creative juices surge. And in a reasonably short time, a finished piece is ready to send to an editor.
Essays can be read in minutes – on a train, on an Uber ride, on a plane, or on a lunch break. They may entertain, instruct, and improve one’s health and well-being. It may be a reflection of our fast-paced world, however, essays are ‘in.’ Dig in the files, writers, for reprints to update into essays and flash fiction.
As a writer, I prefer to work on short stories and novels, however, presently mainstream, ezine and small press magazines require more essays and flash fiction of 500 words or less. Even simple thoughts are sought after. Not too long ago, I was pleasantly surprised to receive in the mail, a $50.00 check for an ‘idea’ a popular woman’s magazine printed in its 'Indulgences' page. As a result of this success, I have had acceptances of additional three or four line ‘bits.’ Due to these favorable results, I bring a pen and tablet wherever I go – doctor’s waiting rooms, on vacation where thoughts stream generously and on the playground while my three grandchildren are having fun burning high energy. Their energy ignites my energy and I am on a roll.
Essays can be read in minutes – on a train, on an Uber ride, on a plane, or on a lunch break. They may entertain, instruct, and improve one’s health and well-being.
It may be a reflection of our fast-paced world, however, essays are ‘in.’ Dig in the files, writers, for reprints to update into essays and flash fiction.
with my planting/hoeing/spraying
for the season,
I plant onions
circling round the garden
and smile fatuously.
That little brown cottontail
will never pass
through this barrier again
I have been told.
Lo and behold ...
my rich harvest of radishes,
lettuce, green beans
and squash ,.. cucumbers
ripe for plucking
nibbled away by
that long eared, bushy-tailed
by Patricia Crandall
Monday, July 31, 2017
Adapted from the multi award-winning Frugal Book Promoter
In the world of publishing as in life, persistence counts. Of course, there is no way to keep a book at the top of the charts forever, but if you keep reviving it, you might hold a classic in your hands. Or your marketing efforts for one book may propel your next one to greater heights.
I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen authors who measure their success by book sales give up on their book (and sometimes on writing) just about the time their careers are about ready to take off. I tell my students and clients to fight the it’s-too-late-urge.
Publicity is like the little waves you make when you toss pebbles into a lake. The waves travel, travel, travel and eventually come back to you. If you stop lobbing little stones, you lose momentum. It’s never too late and it’s never too early to promote. Rearrange your thinking. Marketing isn’t about a single book. It’s about building a career. And new books can build on the momentum created by an earlier book if you keep the faith. Review the marketing ideas in this book, rearrange your schedule and priorities a bit, and keep at it.
Here are a few keep-at-it ideas from the second edition of The Frugal Book Promoter:
- Run a contest on your Web site, on Twitter, or in your newsletter. Use your books for prizes or get cross-promotion benefits by asking other authors for books; many will donate one to you in trade for the exposure. Watch the 99 Cent Stores for suitable favors to go with them.
Hint: Any promotion you do including a contest is more powerful when you call on your friends to tell their blog visitors or Facebook pals about it.
- Barter your books or your services for exposure on other authors’ Web sites.
- Post your flyer, brochure, or business card on bulletin boards everywhere: In grocery stores, coffee shops, Laundromats, car washes, and bookstores.
- Offer classes in writing to your local high school, college, or library system. Publicizing them is easy and free. When appropriate, use your own book as suggested reading. The organization you are helping will pitch in by promoting your class. The network you build with them and your students is invaluable. Use this experience in your media kit to show you have teaching and presentation skills.
- Slip auto-mailers into each book you sell or give away for publicity. Automailers are envelopes that are pre-stamped, ready to go. Your auto mailer asks the recipient to recommend your book to someone else. Your mailer includes a brief synopsis of your book, a picture of the cover of your book, your book’s ISBN, ordering information, a couple of your most powerful blurbs, and a space for the reader to add her handwritten, personal recommendation. Make it clear in the directions that the reader should fill out the form, address the envelope, and mail it to a friend. You may offer a free gift for helping out, but don’t make getting the freebie too tough. Proof-of-purchase type schemes discourage your audience from participating.
- Send notes to your friends and readers asking them to recommend your book to others. Or offer them a perk like free shipping, gift wrap, or small gift if they purchase your book for a friend. That’s an ideal way to use those contact lists you’ve been building.
- While you’re working on the suggestion above, put on your thinking cap. What directories have you neglected to incorporate into your contact list? Have you joined any new groups since your book was published? Did you ask your grown children for lists of their friends? Did you include lists of old classmates?
- Though it may be a bit more expensive than some ideas in this book, learn more about Google’s AdWords and AdSense and Facebook's ad program. Many authors of niche nonfiction or fiction that can be identified with often-searched-for keywords find this advertising program effective.
- Check out ad programs like Amazon’s Vine review service. You agree to provide a certain number of books to Amazon and pay them a fee for the service. Amazon arranges the reviews for you. It’s expensive, but it gets your book exposed to Amazon’s select cadre of reviewers who not only write reviews for your Amazon sales page but also may start (or restart!) a buzz about your book.
- Some of your reviews (both others’ reviews of your book and reviews you’ve written about others’ books) have begun to age from disuse. Start posting them (with permission from the reviewer) on Web sites that allow you to do so. Check the guidelines for my free review service blog at TheNewBookReview.blogspot.com.
- Connect and reconnect. Start reading blogs and newsletters you once subscribed to again. Subscribe to a new one. Join a writers’ group or organization related to the subject of your book.
- Record a playful message about your book on your answering machine.
- When you ship signed copies of your book, include a coupon for the purchase of another copy for a friend—signed and dedicated—or for one of your other books. Some distributors insert fliers or coupons into your books when they ship them for a fee.
- Adjust the idea above to a cross-promotional effort with a friend who writes in the same genre as you. He puts a coupon for your book in his shipments; you do the same for him in yours.
- Explore the opportunities for speaking on cruise ships. Many have cut back on the number of speakers they use, but your area of expertise may be perfect for one of them. I tried it, but found ship politics a drawback. Still, many authors like Allyn Evans who holds top honors in Toastmasters and Erica Miner have used these venues successfully. For help with the application process from beginning to end, contact Daniel Hall at speakerscruisefree.com.
Carolyn Howard-Johnson has been promoting her own books and helping clients promote theirs for more than a decade. Her marketing plan for the 2nd in the HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers, The Frugal Editor)won the New Millennium Award for Marketing. The second edition of The Frugal Book Promoter is a USA Book News award winner and was given the coveted Irwin Award from Book Publicists of Southern California (BPSC). Her most recent, How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically was released in December. Learn more about Carolyn and her books of fiction and poetry that helped her learn more about what kinds of marketing work best for writers at www.howtodoitfrugally.com. or at her Amazon profile, http://bit.ly/CarolynsAmznProfile.
Amazon Profile - bit.ly/CarolynsAmznProfile
Twitter - @FrugalBookPromo
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